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The Press-News column. Dec 10

Valuing Teachers.

On Friday, a spirited group of Canterbury school principals invited me along to their Christmas luncheon. Given I was strapped in my first year at primary school and caned in my last week at high school, I developed an intimate appreciation for a school’s desire to uphold order and high standards. The conversation du jour was New Zealand’s free-fall in the global education stakes.  Why has our country just incurred its worst performance on record in the OECD’s Programme for International Assessment? ( PISA). Most principals I spoke to appeared somewhat deflated, or even in denial, about New Zealand’s nose-dive. Some played the poverty card to explain away our rankings plunge, while others claimed Shanghai screwed the scrum, by hand-picking what students undertook the test.  The PISA people have rubbished the cheating claim, insisting all students were randomly selected. Be that as it may, East Asia’s powerhouse performance underscores their academic work ethic and the power of the pushy parent who actually gives a damn about their child’s learning. Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Taipei have swept the boards. PISA claims socio-economic status is  a minor factor in the achievement stakes, with teacher quality and parental pressure far stronger influences. The PISA data also indicates New Zealand class sizes are, on average, far smaller than the stellar performers.  (Shanghai 35, Singapore 33, Japan 37.) I’m intrigued that Shanghai teachers are paid performance bonuses, as are New York teachers in low decile public schools , in a bid to boost achievement. When is New Zealand going to place a higher value on the teaching profession, with performance-based bonus incentives?

Cry Me a River.

Forgive me for the unfestive sentiment, but some Canterbury dairy farmers are behaving like a pack of imperious snivellers. With public concern over water quality and nitrate contamination reaching fever pitch, it’s a bit rich for some dairy players to be railing out at Environment Canterbury’s Land and Water Plan. It’s been a long time coming, but finally, ECan’s plan places stringent limits on nitrate leaching.  Some farmers are complaining about the mitigation costs they’ll be facing, or even worse – how it will force them to reduce their herd size. Well, cry me a river. The unfettered expansion of industrial-style dairy conversions have become bywords for destructive greed. Re-balancing and moderating economic imperatives with environmental safeguards is a formidable juggle. But the fact that some selfish dairy farmers and impossible-to-please Green Party free radicals are both bitching about the Land and Water Plan, would suggest ECan has probably struck the right balance. Make the polluter pay.

Mike Yardley’s weekly news column in The Press. Published Dec 10.


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